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5 Things That Make Capitalism "Global"

by Nicki Lisa Cole, Ph.D.
Updated August 30, 2017

Global capitalism is the fourth and current epoch of capitalism. What distinguishes it
from earlier epochs of mercantile capitalism, classical capitalism, and national-
corporate capitalism is that the system, which was previously administered by and
within nations, now transcends nations, and thus is transnational, or global, in scope.
In its global form, all aspects of the system, including production, accumulation,
class relations, and governance, have been disembedded from the nation and
reorganized in a globally integrated way that increases the freedom and flexibility
with which corporations and financial institutions operate.

In his book Latin America and Global Capitalism, sociologist William I. Robinson
explains that todays global capitalist economy is the result of ...worldwide market
liberalization and the construction of a new legal and regulatory superstructure for
the global economy... and the internal restructuring and global integration of each
national economy. The combination of the two is intended to create a liberal world
order, an open global economy, and a global policy regime that breaks down all
national barriers to the free movement of transnational capital between borders and
the free operation of capital within borders in the search for new productive outlets
for excess accumulated capital.

The process of globalizing the economy began in the mid-twentieth century. Today,
global capitalism is defined by the following five characteristics.

1. The production of goods is global in nature. Corporations can now

disperse the production process around the world, so that components
of products may be produced in a variety of places, final assembly
done in another, none of which may be the country in which the
business is incorporated. In fact, global corporations, like Apple,
Walmart, and Nike, for example, act as mega-buyers of goods from
globally dispersed suppliers, instead of as producers of goods.

2. The relationship between capital and labor is global in scope,

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highly flexible, and thus very different from epochs past. Because
corporations are no longer limited to producing within their home
countries, they now, whether directly or indirectly through contractors,
employ people around the world in all aspects of production and
distribution. In this context, labor is flexible in that a corporation can
draw from an entire globes worth of workers, and can relocate
production to areas where labor is cheaper or more highly skilled,
should it wish to.

3. The financial system and circuits of accumulation operate on a

global level. Wealth held and traded by corporations and individuals
is scattered around the world in a variety of places, which has made
taxing wealth very difficult. Individuals and corporations from all over
the world now invest in businesses, financial instruments like stocks or
mortgages, and real estate, among other things, wherever they please,
giving them great influence in communities far and wide.

4. There is now a transnational class of capitalists (owners of the

means of production and high level financiers and investors)
whose shared interests shape the policies and practices of global
production, trade, and finance. Relations of power are now global in
scope, and while it is still relevant and important to consider how
relations of power exist and effect social life within nations and local
communities, it is deeply important to understand how power operates
on a global scale, and how it filters down through national, state, and
local governments to impact the everyday lives of people all over the

5. The policies of global production, trade, and finance are created

and administered by a variety of institutions that, together,
compose a transnational state. The epoch of global capitalism has
ushered in a new global system of governance and authority that
impacts what happens within nations and communities around the
world. The core institutions of the transnational state are the United
Nations, the World Trade Organization, the Group of 20, the World
Economic Forum, the International Monetary Fund, and the World
Bank. Together, these organizations make and enforce the rules of
global capitalism. They set an agenda for global production and trade
that nations are expected to fall in line with if they want to participate in
the system.

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Because it has freed corporations from national constraints in highly developed

nations like labor laws, environmental regulations, corporate taxes on accumulated
wealth, and import and export tariffs, this new phase of capitalism has fostered
unprecedented levels of wealth accumulation, and has expanded the power and
influence that corporations hold in society. Corporate and financial executives, as
members of the transnational capitalist class, now influence policy decisions that
filter down to all the worlds nations and local communities.

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